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with experiences of his goodness he calls us to set up our Ebenezer. "We are to remember his marvellous works that he hath done, his wonders, and the judgments of his month." It is very grieving to the Spirit of God to let these things slip; and God complains of his people for it, Jer. ii. 81, 32. We owe it to him in point of gratitude; acknowledgment, and the remembrance of the benefit, is the tribute we owe to God for his goodness. They called the stone Ebenezer; thereby to make acknowledgment that it was not they that got the victory, but God for them. O monstrous ingratitude to forget experiences.
We owe it to him also, in point of compliance with his design in giving experience of his help to his people. God intends his people more comfort by a mercy, than the mercy itself singly considered. He intends it as a ground to hope for more. He gives the valley of Achor for a door of hope. But how can they comply with this design unless they remember them. "Thou brakest, says Asaph, the head of the leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness." The heads of the leviathan are the princes of Pharaoh. God in that help which he gave to his people at the Red Sea, would have them not only feast themselves on it for the present, but carefully lay it up in their memories, that their faith might not want support in the wilderness.
2. We owe this to ourselves in point of interest. If we would consult our own advantage, we would not let them slip. For forformer experiences of the Lord's help are very supporting to the soul in a dark night. Sometimes a Christian's spiritual rest is broken, then it is useful to read the records of his experiences. Sometimes a little writing is found in a man's study that saves his estate and keeps him out of prison. In such times "we should remember the years of the right hand of the most high." This may revive our hopes.
These experiences are pledges of further mercies. mises have their day of payment here, others after this life. The performing of the former, is an earnest given to faith to look for the other. "Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory." Every mercy a child of God receives, may be called Joseph, for the Lord shall add another to it. It is not so with others, and the two reasons shall be found in these words: "O continue thy loving-kindness to them that know thee, and thy righteousness to the upright in heart." The mercies bestowed on the Lord's people flow from solid love, and love knows not an enemy. The son abides in the house, the servant goes away at the term. The saint's mercies are made over to him by promise. It is
remarkable, 2 Sam. v. 12, that David gathers his establishment in the kingdom, by his prospering to that time. Saul too prospered at first, but was not established; the reason was, David's establishment was a special promise. The word of promise gives not only bread to the eater, but seed to the sower. These experiences then, are good arguments in prayer. We find the saints often pleading with God upon former experience. "Thy vows are upon me, O God: I will render praises unto thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death." It is not the way to plead with men, but it is a notable way to plead with God, for he is unchangeable, "whom he loves, he loves to the end."
3. We owe this to others. It is a duty to communicate our experiences of the Lord's goodness to our fellow Christians. "Come and hear, all ye that fear God, and I will declare what he hath done for my soul." But how can we do this, unless we record them, and keep up the memory of them. It must be very encouraging to distressed Christians, to hear that others have been plunged in the same or similar depths, and yet have been delivered. For this shall every one that is godly pray unto thee, in a time when thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters, they shall not come nigh unto him."
USE 1. To Christians, whose work it is to look to the Lord for his help, being sensible of their own weakness. We say to you,
1. Record your experiences, keep up the memory of them. It is a soul enriching trade to gather experiences. It makes a strong Christian. It makes one ready to suffer for Christ, and to venture for him.
2. Improve your experiences for strengthening your faith and hope for time to come, in the promises of God. And to help you to this, take these notes. The same God that helped thee formerly still lives: His arm and power are as strong as ever. Doubting of the Lord's willingness to help, is a sad leak, but the ship will never sink, till faith let go its hold of the power of God.
Though awful distempers break out in the people of God in time of affliction, yet he will still perform his word to them. He will save his people notwithstanding, Psal. cxvi. 11, 12. If it were not so, we could not have been out of hell till this time. The Psalmist makes this a ground of hope to others. Psal. xxxi. 22-24. If thou be a Christian, God hath delivered thee from greater straits than any in which thou now art. "He hath delivered your soul from death." OBJECTION, But though God deliver in one, yet he lets a man fall in another strait. ANSWER, Even affliction itself, a valley of Achor, may be a door of hope, a door by which a great mercy VOL. IV.
may enter; so was Joseph's prison, and Daniel's den. A debt may be paid either with money, or something equal in value. If God do not take away the trouble, but give strength to bear it; if he remove not sickness, but remove the sick saint to heaven, he is no loser. USE 2. A word to all. Go to God for your help in all cases. Let God be your helper. Consider,
1. You have many and strong enemies. grapple with Satan, the world, and the flesh. if God help thee not.
You are not able to
2. He is a present help. He is not far off. He is within hearing of your cry. Men may perish when help is far away.
3. He is willing.
4. He is able to help thee in all cases, and at all times. When friends can do nothing but close the eyes, and prepare the funeral rites, Christ can take thy soul to his Father's glory, and present it there with exceeding joy. Amen.
Swinton, July 28, 1706, Sermon after the Action.
MOURNING THE ABSENCE OF CHRIST.
LAMENTATIONS iii. 49, 50.
Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission, till the Lord look down and behold from heaveu.
WONDER not, that upon this occasion, we have read a mournful text to you; for I suppose if every one of us were taking liberty to express the affections and present frame of our hearts, it would be as Ezra iii. 12, 13, "when some wept with a loud voice, and many shouted aloud for joy: so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy, from the noise of the weeping of the people." So among us, some would weep, and some rejoice; and in the meantime, others would stand as unconcerned spectators, who have not found Christ, and therefore cannot rejoice; and do not feel the want of him, and therefore cannot lament after him. Yea, perhaps, some would be found, who with one eye would look joyfully, because they have got so much; and with the other weep, because they have not got more. But alas! it is the misery of many that they are too soon
pleased. They may begin in the course of mourning with the church here, but cannot hold up with her, but stand still, long before "the Lord look down and behold from heaven," and so lose the things which they have wrought. In the text we have,
1. The church's present exercise, and that is mourning. The ground of her mourning was guilt and heavy affliction, chap. v. 16. Her grief was great, "mine eye trickleth down." Her sorrow was such as if her eye had been turned into a fountain of tears, and her head into waters. It was lasting, it ceased not: It was not for a fit and away again, and so ended; but it was without intermission, a continual sorrow.
2. The term of the continuance of this exercise. "Till the Lord look down, and behold from heaven." She would take no comfort till the Lord should give it to her. She was seeking the Lord sorrowing, and her eyes cannot dry till she find him. It was the light of his countenance only, that could restore her joy. She was resolved her cry should be continually going to the throne, till he that sits upon it, should look in mercy on her, and deliver her.
DOCTRINE. As it is the duty, so it is the disposition of the godly, exercised under the hidings of the Lord's face, not to give over, nor to sit down contented, till such time as the Lord be pleased to give them a favourable look. We see it thus with Jacob. He said to God, "I will not let thee go, except thou bless me." Gen. xxii. 26; Hosea xii. 4. And the woman of Canaan. Matt. xv. 22-28. I shall here.
I. Shew what this imports.
II. Give reasons why they are thus disposed. I am then,
I. To shew what is imported in this. It imports,
1. That a child of God may be under the hidings of God's face. When it is said. "till the Lord look," this imports that the Lord refused to look on them for the time. "Thou didst hide thy face," says David," and I was troubled." God will have a difference betwixt the upper and lower houses. When the saints are above, all the shadows flee away, but now clouds may intercept the light of his countenance. This implies that a controversy is apprehended betwixt Christ and the soul. The soul conceives the Lord is angry, for the turning way of the face is the way how we signify our displeasure. When the Lord turns his back, conscience turns its face to the soul, and tells that the Lord is displeased. And O! how bitter must God's anger be to that soul that knows him. Is his favour sweet as life, then his anger must be bitter as death. It implies also an apprehension of the Lord's laying aside any special concern about them. I do not say but it is a mistaken ap
prehension, but sure such a thing is here implied; for the wife will be ready to think that her husband has forgot her, when he locks up himself in his chamber, and does not give her a look through door or window. This was David's exercise when he said, "How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me?" This was Zion's conclusion, though she was mistaken, Isa. xlix. 14, 15. The children of God may be under that apprehension, that their high priest hath let them out of his mind, though he remembers them still, and doth them many good offices. which they know not, till afterwards. But it is so long between visits, that they think he hath forgotten them.
2. It imports that the hidings of the Lord's face, may continue long with a child of God. The tears for his absence, may trickle down long, ere he come and wipe them away. "I am afflicted," says Heman, "and ready to die from my youth up." Sovereignty hath the disposal of the time, and sometimes may prolong it, so as it may appear a kind of eternity. Hence such complaints as, "the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved." God will have his people's faith and patience tried, and therefore makes their clouds return after the rain.
3. A holy dissatisfaction with all things, while Christ hides his face. The soul is difficult to please when the Lord is gone. Nothing will stop the fountain of tears here, till the Lord look down from heaven. The word will not please them, and ordinances will not please them, without him, Psal. vi. 6, 7, and xxvii. 4. An angel's presence could not satisfy Moses, Exod. xxxiii. 15; nor dry Mary's cheeks, while her Lord was taken away. Their life is bound up in his favourable looks, and as Rachel weeping for her children, refuses to be comforted, because they are not, so they cannot be comforted till he return:
4. A wearisome longing after the Lord, Job vii. 2, 3; and xxiii. 3, 4. The soul is looking for his appearance, as the traveller in the night longs for the day-breaking. Most of the causes of weariness concur here, as solitude. The wife lives but a solitary life, when the husband is from home, though the house be thronged with servants; so does the child of God, while the Lord hides his face. Darkness also causeth weariness. It is a pleasant thing to behold the sun; but now the Sun of Righteousness hides his face, and it is a dark hour with the soul, Job xxix. 2, 3. Here also there is some toil. A time of desertion, is a toilsome time to the people of God. "I am weary with my groaning," says David. Duties are hard work, when Christ withdraws. Labour in vain much more causeth weariness. Hope deferred makes the heart sick. Sometimes they